RIVERVIEW, Fla. — LaVita Rodriguez says she’s not just a breast cancer survivor, but a "thriver" whose health obstacles only fuel her ambitions to live a productive and meaningful life.

What You Need To Know

  • Almost 1.9 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2021

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women

  • Metastatic triple negative-breast cancer is known to grow and spread faster than other breast cancers

“Cancer does not discriminate,” the 36-year-old Riverview resident told Spectrum Bay News 9 this week. “It doesn’t care about your hopes and dreams. It’s going to happen when it’s going to happen. You need to have the right care and the right physicians.”

Rodriguez was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in the fall of 2018. It’s considered the least common form of breast cancer and the hardest to treat, because it tests negative for three receptors: estrogen, progesterone and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Because of that, those diagnosed with this form of breast cancer can’t take hormonal therapies.

“The chemotherapies eradicate some of the disease in certain places, and then it will show up somewhere else in the next scan, and then we’ll switch to another treatment and it will eradicate a lot of the cancer and then do a scan, and it’s somewhere else,” she explained. “It’s just a lot of back and forth, highs and lows. It’s something that I have to go through in order to live."

Though the treatment can be intense, Rodriguez remains extremely active. She’s an advocate for abused, abandoned, and neglected children in Juvenile Dependency court in Hillsborough County, is a pediatric volunteer at Tampa General Hospital, and hopes to soon begin law school to become a health care and human rights attorney.

It’s at this point that we should note that Rodriguez has previously suffered from a life-changing accident that hasn’t deterred her ambitions: in 2008 at the age of 23, she became paralyzed after being involved in a car accident.

“I persevered,” she said about that time of her life, where she went on to complete her bachelor’s degree and followed it up with an MBA.

When asked how she’s been able to handle so much adversity, she credits the love she gets from her family and the strong support from her team of doctors, saying that she can trust them to advocate for her — they include Brandon oncologist Dr. Robert W. Weaver, USF breast cancer surgeon Dr. Charles Cox and plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Wayne C. Lee.

Rodriguez has also become an advocate for breast cancer patients. She supports more funding for the Mary Brogan Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, a federal-state partnership between the CDC and the Florida Dept. of Health that provides breast cancer screening and diagnostic services to uninsured and underinsured women.

Rodriguez says she met with Tampa Democratic state Sen. Janet Cruz earlier this year, and says that they both support the idea of legislation that would lower the age for breast cancer screenings.

“I believe it’s something that needs to be done, because younger women are coming up with breast cancer – especially triple-negative. It’s affecting women 50 and younger,” she said.

The FDA in 2020 approved immunotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer patients, yet Rodriguez says she had to go through two chemotherapy sessions prior to receiving it – because that’s what her insurance company demanded. 

“When you have something that is developed for an aggressive cancer like mine, that’s what you want to jump to – you want to save your life. You don’t want to ravage your body when you’re going through chemotherapies. That’s something that also needs to be looked into,” she said.

LaVita Rodriguez says she’s currently taking a break to deal with her treatment, but intends to enter law school soon so she can fight for others.

“I am a fighter in every sense of my life,” she said. “I will continue to fight, and I will always fight for others as well.”